Findings on antisocial children raise red flag for parents

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 April, 2013, 5:02am

Are we in danger of raising a generation of narcissists and spoiled brats? A new study by City University social scientist Annis Fung Lai-chu has caused alarm.

At first glance, her key findings are disturbing. But they need to be put in context. Using a questionnaire called "Antisocial Process Screening Device" (APSD), Fung tested 9,400 local children with an average age of 11 and found the average level of narcissism registered 3.89 on a 14-point scale. That was higher than the 2.9 for children in the US, 2.36 in Britain and 2.81 in Australia. These children show excessive self-regard, sense of superiority and vanity.

Sixteen per cent of pupils she tested showed signs of being aggressors or bullies. Similar studies in the US found only about 10 per cent of children had such tendencies. This category of children had an APSD score of 6.23, similar to that of juvenile delinquents in the US and Canada.

Alarming? Well, the validity of APSD is not universally accepted. Since it focuses on antisocial behaviour, it may not provide a complete picture with other more positive attributes. It might also be more appropriate for Fung to compare Hong Kong's children with those from major cities such as New York, London and Toronto rather than countries as a whole.

Fung thinks what she calls "monster parents" are to blame. Assuming her numbers are valid, it's still unclear as to their causes. "Tiger" parents and indulgent "helicopter" parents have been blamed for raising children who lack confidence and independence. Now we are saying they are over-confident. So which is it?

Still, Fung's study has raised red flags that parents should always pay attention to. Have their children become too egoistic or aggressive? Are they developing a proper moral sense or a terrible sense of entitlement which makes them feel they deserve whatever they want?

Every responsible parent must monitor their children in these respects and Fung's study serves as a useful reminder.